Humane Society releases video of Tennessee walking horse abuse

Humane Society releases video of Tennessee walking horse abuse

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The video was taken in 2011 at the farm of a prominent trainer, Jackie McConnell in Collierville. (source: HSUS) The video was taken in 2011 at the farm of a prominent trainer, Jackie McConnell in Collierville. (source: HSUS)

KNOXVILLE (WATE/AP) - The Humane Society of the United States released video Thursday of the abuse of Tennessee walking horses that led to a federal indictment charging four people with violation of the federal Horse Protection Act.

Tennessee walking horses, known for their high stepping gait, are a tradition in the state, seen at the annual championship and at UT homecoming games, but an undercover investigation  reveals a dark side to the prize winning industry.

"The gait that's being rewarded in the show ring is totally artificial, its a gross exaggeration," explained Keith Dane, the director of equine protection for the Humane Society.

The video is shocking, showing abuse and a practice called soring, where trainers apply chemicals to the horses ankles to achieve that walk.

"That causes pain and essentially a flinch and it causes that horse to step higher and stride deeper and in this industry the bigger the stride the better," said Dane.  

The horses are in so much pain, they can't stand. 

"If a horse chooses to take a beating rather than stand up on sore feet, that animal is in severe pain," said Sonja Cowsert of Horse Haven, where they treat horses that have suffered the cruelty of soring.

And it's a practice Cowsert says is all too common.

"Sometimes mechanical things are added like nails, tacks, glass, diesel fuel, there's a variety of things that are added," she explained.

Horse Haven has several Tennessee walking horses in their care, one who has damage that indicates she suffered from the practices of the industry. With care, she will recover, however many horses suffer long term damage.

"The legs and joints, the back because they have such an exaggerated gait, that's permanent.

Cowsert says change won't happen unless it's on the inside, but the Humane Society says the good ole' boy nature of the industry prevents that. 

"This is a tight-knit group of people from the breeders to the trainers to the judges and there's a lot of conflict of interest in the industry," Dane said.

According to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeding and Exhibitors Association, do not have to be sored to walk.

"The walking horse holds an inherent natural gait that has been in existence for nearly 100 years. TWHBEA  adopted a zero tolerance policy in regards to soring a number of years ago and has recently challenged EVERY MEMBER to adopt a zero tolerance policy themselves," states TWHBEA President Marty Irby in a statement to 6 News.

The video released was taken in 2011 at the farm of a prominent trainer, Jackie McConnell in Collierville, and shows individuals soring horses at his stables.

Soring is a banned practice of using chemicals and chains to train the horses to perform a high-stepping gait for shows and competitions.

McConnell has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, according to court records. His attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment.

6 News Reporter Alexis Zotos contributed to this report. Some portions of this report copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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